Games Lead to Success; Loving Leads to Life.

“You game everything, don’t you,” said Katie as we pulled into the driveway of our house in San Francisco after spending a weekend together in the California wilderness. As usual she had selected precisely the right words to name an element of my character that I spend most of my time being proud of, and to communicate: “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I grew up on games. The memory bank of my life includes many happy hours playing everything from hearts to chess to monopoly with family, friends and strangers. Games are not primarily about competition. Striving to win is merely the context for wiring the brain to be effective in defining a goal, designing a path to the goal, developing the skill to achieve the goal, and feeling accomplishment. Learning and practicing strategy and Google Image Result for are critical for success of any sort. Athletics wired my brain for cooperation as well as keeping my body in shape. Sports kept my spirits up when the game of school got me down.

Yes, gaming wired my brain and helped me be successful. Katie’s observation, however, made me aware that I had driven the last four miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to our house gaming how to dodge as much of the Sunday traffic as possible. Maximizing efficiency and minimizing driving time had made me minimize my time with my daughter. In the kindest loving way she had made me aware that I had been playing a game instead of being with her. I was ashamed.

Half-way through third grade, my little brother Jeffrey is in the process of learning how to win at the game of school. A slow reader, he nonetheless loves books. Although his body would rather be in motion, he is capable of sitting, listening and completing assignments—most of the time. Fascinated by social dynamics, passionate about issues of power and authority, and possessed of third-grade notions of fairness, he is learning how to play the social game and to stay out of trouble at the same time—most of the time. He will learn the game of school.

What is most delightful about Jeffrey, however, is that he is still very much in possession of his soul. His concern for his relationships is paramount, his commitment to integrity is palpable and whatever catastrophe has occurred, joy is not far below the surface. At 11:45 he bounds into the school library where I wait with a pizza. In his hand he has four worksheets of arithmetic problems mostly incomplete or wrong, but his face beams, and we delight in the fact that we are together. If doing worksheets is how we will spend our time together, then so be it. Worksheets it is.

My hope for Jeffrey is that he learns to play the game of school without losing his love of life, his joy in relationship and his genius for being in the moment.



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11 Responses to Games Lead to Success; Loving Leads to Life.

  1. Parent Peter in Toronto says:

    Ah, yes! “Genius for being in the moment”; surely that’s the greatest genius of all – across all facets of life – because, without it, no other genius is worth a damn.

    Without whatever it takes to Be Present; be in the exact moment, in the exact place, all other geniuses lie dormant.

  2. Tracy says:

    You’re absolutely right, Parent Peter. And as parents, we need to keep saying it. High school (even middle school, really) seems to have been designed by some diabolical consciousness explicitly to deprive us of the skill of living in the moment and test even those most aware of the need to preserve that genius. (I’ve got 2 freshmen and a college sophomore.) It seems to have only one message – that the “name of the game” is not living in the moment, but achieving future prizes – getting into a top rated college, then a top grad school, then one of those high paying jobs with lots of prestige. No time to stop and smell the flowers. No time to spend learning about something that deviates from the path to the goal. No way can GPA points be risked exploring a subject at which one might not immediately excel. It’s so important for parents to offer a different set of priorities.

  3. Rick says:

    If the game of school is to learn how to set goals, strategize, achieve, and work efficiently, can parents help kids by simply being loving presences?

  4. Shirley says:

    I hate to be a wet blanket, but I don’t think just being lovingly present is enough. From what I’ve witnessed, families across North American willingly give up their children and align their lives to school every September. School dictates our schedule, our vacations, our routines from sun up to sun down. If we let it.

    I’m a parent who tries very hard to make it clear to my child and the teachers for the year, that home is MY home, and this is my child, not my STUDENT. I am not interested in being a coach to my child in the school game. My focus, and I feel it’s my job, is to be a coach about life, to help her learn what it takes to share space with another human being, to care for living things that are vulnerable (pets, small children, people needing help), and to listen to what her inner voice is telling her, because it’s usually correct. Learning about life is more important than times tables any given day of the week. And when the kid has been at school from 8:30 til 5:30 (when I pick her up from the afterschool program) I reason that she has had enough of school for the day and would NEVER tell her she has to do more at home, though according to school, I’m supposed to.

  5. Rick says:

    Shirley, your point is completely harmonious with the my two stories, and I love what you say and you say it so eloquently. Thank you.
    So what are you putting a wet blanket on?

  6. Lisa Duggan says:

    Shirley, I couldn’t agree more. When my third-grader was in tears on Monday night while doing his math homework, I asked “What’s the worst thing about this?”. He said “That afterschool time should be for PLAYING, not for more work!”.

    It broke my heart, and with tears in my eyes I told him I agree with him. I don’t think I even HAD homework in 3rd grade.

    And I realize it’s my own fear that keeps me encouraging, even cajoling, this kid to finish his homework. Fear of my gen ed kid falling far far behind the kids in the Advanced classes. Fear of him being tracked into the “average” track and not receiving the attention and resources that the Advanced Kids get. And then, and then…..they’ll be ahead, he’ll be behind and discouraged, and will not have a happy life (?) Sounds ridiculous, but my more candid friends admit much of the same fear

    As I try to model living from love and not fear, I struggle with these issues. And I do all I can to teach my kids the same values Shirley is teaching her daughter. And I do all I can to make love win.

  7. Shirley says:

    Thanks Rick..and Lisa.

    Rick, I think I feel like a wet blanket because I think that my viewpoint about sequestering school to school hours is usually perceived as not being supportive of schooling and thus, my child’s education. I won’t play the school game, despite being entirely on board about education, if that makes sense to anyone.
    It goes so far sometimes as me having to defend my boundaries even to my own child who asks, “Why can’t you just be a good Mom and do what the teacher tells you to do?” (paraphrased, but only a little) She’s learning a certain type of gaming that she needs to fit in at school and if she had a “normal” Mom, her mind might be clearer about what she’d supposed to be doing.

    She’s going into Middle School next year and I fear we’re approaching a day when she buckles to the teachers’ pressure and places their demands above her own feelings of exhaustion, boredom, or wish to do something else with her home hours, regardless of my support of her. Will she pat me on the head and pity her poor delusional mother who thinks that life is about enjoyment, exploring what you like, and doing the best you can, when everyone knows it’s really about getting good marks, doing what you’re told and getting a high paying job.

    I resent that one day, she will probably side with the school. And I guess I really resent that the system is set up like this so that my role as parent is undermined.

    I truly admire this blog Rick….I am in the midst of your book …must get it finished.

  8. Lyn says:

    Sometimes one of my children would actually complain about a teacher (in elementary school), and I like to think that I always sympathized with the child by saying how “awful” that was or whatever else – but I also remember telling the child, “He (or she) is still your teacher and you still have to do the learning – ” I hope that was a realistic way to support the child, but also engage in “the game” of school from the perspective of the parent. So, perhaps, Shirley and all of you, you are doing both and you just don’t notice it.

  9. Tracy says:

    Lisa: You hit the nail on the head. It’s fear that feeds and drives our present misguided education system. In fact, in general in life, if the wheels are coming off the bus, I’ve found that fear is usually in the driver’s seat.

  10. Rick says:

    If we are having trouble supporting school, maybe parents could propose to schools a deal: “Tell you what: you make school more like life, and we’ll support the game of school, more.”
    Thank you all for these brilliant perspectives.

  11. Carol Luther says:

    I’ve been engrossed by a poignant corollary to what you wrote, that success has somehow become detached from life. I see this all the time in children, that our natural species instinct to connect (love) is thwarted by a social mandate to compete. Sports, in my mind, are a very mixed blessing, blessed by clear rules and healthy exercise, cursed by society’s underlying ethic of winning and losing.

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